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7 Questions with John Engstrom
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with John Engstrom
Name: John Engstrom
Current title: Educational Consultant
Current organisation: Engstrom Leadership Consulting
John began his career as a chemistry and physics teacher as well as a coach at the Stony Brook School in New York. After 23 years in the classroom he served as a Head of School in four different schools during the next 29 years of his career. He is currently serving as an educational consultant with Luova Education Group located in Manila, Philippines, providing organizational development and executive coaching.
1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?
My most challenging experience has been assisting our leadership teams to focus on school-wide results coming from healthy conflict, team commitments and mutual accountability. These dynamics stem from a foundational trust built upon common values and vulnerability.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
As an early riser, I value a daily quiet time for mediation and prayer, preparing for the day ahead. I am also committed to daily exercise consisting of swimming, jogging along with golf and tennis when I can work it in. I find it easier to write in the morning hours, while doing more mundane tasks later in the day. My wife, Alice and I have gotten into playing board games from time to time, especially during these months of COVID protocols. I am often on Zoom or GoogleMeet with clients in Manila or Dubai. Bedtime comes early after reading historical novels and biographies.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I value collaboration with colleagues and focus on listening to all the voices in the room. I strongly believe that decisions made with healthy group discussion are usually superior to autocratic ones. God has made us with different gifts and perspectives to enhance decisions made for His Kingdom.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I was deeply impressed by Good To Great, by Jim Collins because it focused on the characteristics of strong, consistent leadership provided by committed individuals. I became aware that leaders are held to a higher standard than others simply because they are modeling behavior and attitudes for others. I was also reminded that leaders come with all kinds of experiences and abilities, however, each can use their specific gifts to build the Kingdom.
5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?
I have deep respect for individuals to give their lives to others through teaching and coaching. They deserve to be nurtured and challenged continuously throughout their careers. Each Christian teacher should be respected as a professional and a Christ follower who has chosen to live sacrificially for the benefit of others. Great teachers will respond to leaders who encourage them and provide challenges which they will embrace.
6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
I believe encouragement goes a long way in the development of a healthy and joyful school community. I was always committed to visiting every class at least once a year and writing notes of thanks and encouragement regularly. Not only does this indicate your interest in every faculty member, it conveys the same important message to the students in every classroom: you are interested in what is happening at the class level and you want to connect with the students. I also took every opportunity in public settings to recognize students and faculty members for their important contributions to the school community; this can also engender a positive culture of wellbeing.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a Christian school leader so far?
I have been so thankful to work with many individuals who have been generous with their family resources. Although fundraising can be a challenge for many Christian school leaders, I have been pleasantly surprised by the many interactions I have had. I am sure that God moves them to provide resources to meet the needs of Christian schools throughout the world.
Once, during lunch, I asked a donor if he would match a gift he had previously provided toward a project we had identified in connection with our school. He turned me down, indicating he had experienced a difficult year with his business and was not able to help at that particular time. I thanked him for considering making a gift and for the gift he had previously given. After a round of golf however, and on the way to his car, he said, "By the way, John, please put me down for the gift amount you requested; think I can do this after all. What a complete surprise this was to me. God has a way of working we know little about.
In one form or another, this story happened regularly in relation to Christian schools in which I had the privilege of working.